Some Palestinians find work in Palestinian restaurants and banks. Unfortunately, most Palestinians have difficulty finding work. Some researchers have estimated that 35% of work-age Palestinians are unemployed.
I hear it as I walk through the Bethlehem checkpoint and enter Palestinian Bethlehem. The Palestinian men ask hopefully: “Taxi?” It is followed up immediately with the question, “Where you going? I can drive you.” If I smile but keep walking, I hear the words: “Don’t walk. It will be too hot!” Once a man came to me and said: “I saw you walking along the wall. I have no work. Can you give me some money so I can buy food to eat?”
Even without doing any research, I can deduce the causes of unemployment. Like Egypt and Jordan, violence in the Mideast has caused tourism to decrease since 2008. Since tourists spent approximately 21 billion dollars in 2016, tourism financially affects most Israelis and Palestinian Israelis. The Wall not only inconveniences and discourages tourists but also harms Palestinians both in the Palestinian and Israeli controlled zones. If a Palestinian lives in Palestinian-controlled areas, either in the Palestinian zone or in a refugee camp, then to work in an Israeli-controlled area they must pass through a checkpoint. It appears that Israeli security guards are instructed to be unpredictable. One day, a Palestinian may quickly pass through the checkpoint; another day, that same Palestinian may have to wait two hours. This unpredictability affects the Palestinian workers tremendously. They often lose jobs because their employers do not want employees who can’t be regular employees.
The consequences of unemployment or inadequate employment are varied. Sister Bridgett, a Roman Catholic nun who has worked in Gaza for a dozen years, told me a sad story about Caritas, a clinic in Gaza. This clinic/children’s home helps children 3 months to 16 years of age. Before arriving at Tantur for a three-day retreat, Sister Bridgette learned of a two-month-old child brought to Caritas by a young mother. The young mother pleaded with Caritas to break the rules and care for the two month old baby. Her reason was disturbing. She alone had to care for three other small children at home because her husband, the children’s father, had just committed suicide. He had been unemployed for a long time, and in despair killed himself.
Some Palestinians have their own business. A couple might run a small souvenir shop, or an individual might carry a hookah on his back. In the Bethlehem area, over thirty small hotels are owned and managed by Palestinians. While they have done well, they now face competition from a new Israeli-owned hotel with hundreds of rooms. The future success of these Palestinian entrepreneurs is questionable.
Many Palestinians face a difficult life with little or no work. Palestinians know that work is necessary; the problem is often finding that work or making their work successful.